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Taking the form of an imaginary dialogue.

  • [Suggestions for improvement or alteration welcomed]

I don’t understand this global warming thing at all. Explain it to me.

‘ The main idea is that the world is getting warmer and we’re causing it. The worry is that if we don’t do anything about it, the world might get a lot warmer and a lot of people will suffer.’

So, it’s definitely getting warmer, then?


How do we know it really is us, you know, carbon and all that?

‘Well, the world isn’t just kept warm by greenhouse gases. Almost all of the heat comes from the Sun. The carbon dioxide and other gases just make it a bit warmer than it would be otherwise.’

I heard that it was all natural; you know, it’s just natural changes in the Sun, or whatever.’

‘The Sun does vary a bit, but when they measure how much it changes, it doesn’t add up to how much extra warmth we’ve had, not for the last fifty years or so.’

Yeah, but what about volcanoes and cosmic rays and all those other things?

‘Volcanoes make the world cooler when there’s a big eruption near the equator. The last two big ones were measured, so they have a good idea how much effect they have. They don’t stop the warming after a couple of years.’

But that programme on the TV said that it was cosmic rays and changes in the Sun…

‘The programme was wrong. The stuff they showed, you know, the graphs, were faked up to make them look like proof. They know that cosmic rays might have a small effect on the world’s climate, but nothing like the amount they said in the programme. It was deliberately put together to make people think that carbon dioxide isn’t the problem.’

I heard that it wasn’t going to be all that bad, and that it could be good for us. Who wouldn’t mind a bit of extra Summertime, eh?

‘It might not get too bad where you or I live; it depends. Some places are going to have more problems than others. The warmer it gets, the worse it will be for all of us. If you live in Africa, or places where droughts are already a problem, a bit of extra Summertime might be the difference between life and death.’

But we’re not going to be badly effected, are we, so why should it matter to us?’

‘If it only gets a bit warmer, we might not be directly worse off. But if there are more droughts, crop failures, floods and extreme weather, then we could either suffer our own problems, or be effected by problems like wars over resources, or mass migrations. Apart from the bigger picture, millions of people suffering because it’s getting warmer and there’s less food to go around and more disease, you have to remember that, the warmer it gets, the better the chance of you being directly effected. What you feel about it depends a lot on how much you care about other people’s problems.’

Yeah, but I don’t see what taxing me for my car, or making me change my lightbulbs is going to make any difference. As far as I can tell, it’s just another excuse to rip us all off. That’s why they keep saying how bad it’s going to be, so we don’t mind so much.

‘Some of this is about politics, you know, what politicians are doing about it. It doesn’t change the basic facts at all. Whether or not doing these things is the best way to help is a political question, as much as one about the science. You might not like what they are doing, but that doesn’t mean that the world isn’t getting warmer, or that there aren’t going to be problems. The bottom line is that carbon dioxide from emissions is the main difference between a future where we can adapt and help sort out the problems, and one where the whole system is so messed up that we won’t be able to do anything about it; it’ll be too late.’

So its all about what car I drive and whether I take a holiday in Florida, then…

‘No, not really. Carbon from the transport which we use only counts for about 10% of the problem. It’s things like emissions from power stations, industrial processes, deforestation and changes in agriculture which make the bigger difference. The picture is a lot bigger than the TV and papers normally make out. So are the problems.

PART Two will follow…



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April 2007